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A night at the Las Vegas Super Sprint Triathlon Grand Prix

Tonight I spent the evening checking out the Super Sprint triathlon race format as part of the Super Sprint Triathlon Grand Prix which served as the 2013 USA Triathlon Elite Sprint National Championships.  This racing style is a bit different than your typical sprint triathlon – or even Olympic distance format.

First, unlike both of those you’ll actually do the entire swim/bike/run fiasco twice…yes, twice.  Further, in an effort to make the sport more spectator-friendly the route/course is highly condensed – with numerous laps rather than long courses that meander away from spectators.  Finally, this race wasn’t targeted at age groupers – but rather at some of the top pros in triathlon today.  The field was pretty much packed with a “who’s who” of pro triathletes.

With that, let’s get into where it was and how it works.

The Course and Format:

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As noted above, the entire race course is repeated twice, so here’s how the race legs breakout:

Swim: 300m (12 lengths of the 25m pool)
Bike: 5 Miles (7 Laps)
Run: 1.5 Miles (3 Laps)

But, it’s not just once through the above, rather twice through the entire course.  You Swim/T1/Bike/T2/Run…and then go back to the Swim and start all over again.  Ultimately this puts you pretty close to a typical sprint-distance triathlon of a 600m swim, 10-mile bike, and 3-mile run.

The swim was held in a 115,000 gallon pool set up in the middle of the parking lot across from the Las Vegas Convention Center (which was unfortunately many miles from Interbike).

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The run and bike courses were a large looped route around the outside of the perimeter.  You can see them outlined below with the fencing, making a smaller loop visible in the center of my photo, and then out to the left it goes slightly out of frame in a longer loop there.  In the photo below you can see some of the women racing in a small pack that is actually visible mid-way through one of the heats at the bottom of the loop towards the left side:

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The athletes meanwhile had qualifying heats earlier in the morning, which ultimately led to three races this evening.  Starting at 6:30PM there was a relay race:

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Then at 8PM there was the women’s finals with the Top 10 women:

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And finally at 9PM there was the men’s finals with the Top 10 men:

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The winner of each race would take home $2,500US, and the field was paid out through the top ten places.  Additionally, there were bonuses for the top five US athletes starting at $1,500US.

Given the timing being paired to Interbike, many sponsors were able to work with athletes to get them to the race (and also make booth appearances) – so you ended up with a pretty darn competitive field for an event that isn’t otherwise on anyone’s normal race calendar.

The Swim:

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In line with most top pro events, the announcer got all of the women lined up, naming them one by one to their assigned lanes, where they ran up the short and steep ramp to deck of the inflatable pool.

The swim start is very much like a typical ITU swim start where the athletes are told to prepare to start, and then a moment or two later a tone sounds and off they go:

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Despite being 8PM, it was still at least 90*F, so even though I got a bit of a bath after this shot, I was dry a few minutes later.

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While the length of the pool was 25m long, it otherwise wasn’t structured terribly different than your backyard inflatable poolset that you’d find at Wal-Mart.  Just you know…a wee bit bigger.

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The pool itself didn’t have lines along the bottom like a typical pool.  In fact, if you watched athletes close enough you’d be surprised at how often they wandered a bit within their lanes (each athlete had their own lane).

Along the bottom they placed small strips to allow the athletes to see the end of the lane:

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Each athlete was responsible for tracking their own laps, however there was some double-checking of that.  At one point I saw one of the women swim an extra 1/4th of a lap before she realized her error, backtracked, and exited the pool.

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Speaking of exiting the pool, the ramp was actually pretty darn steep – steeper than the below photo makes it appear.  The exit styles varied from athlete to athlete.  Some went for the running variation, while others went with the slip-and-slide option.  While the running option was faster, the slide technique was clearly safer.

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With the first 300m of swimming completed (12 lengths), the athletes headed to the far side of the above pool to pick up their bikes.

The Bike:

The athletes had pre-racked their own bikes within one of the numbered bike slots available in the small transition area.  Along with their bikes they also had not only one, but in some cases two pairs of shoes – each setup in the fastest possible manner for what were effectively two triathlons.  Further, some athletes also had two swim caps + goggles, to ensure that they were quickly accessible for the second swim.

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While transition times are always important in triathlon, they are especially so in draft-legal triathlons such as ITU racing and the racing here.  This is because your goal is to quickly connect with other athletes and form a pack – ideally helping one another just like you’d see in a professional cycling event.

Making it more difficult though than a traditional ITU race is the short distance between the pool and the bikes – all of perhaps 10 meters.  Normally athletes might get a few hundred meter run to their bikes, giving them a brief moment to catch their breath (yes, despite still running).

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Here, you can see a group working together on the bike leg coming down the back stretch:

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During each bike and run lap the athletes would pass through the finish-line area.  They’d be appraised of the number of laps left, though that sometimes got a bit complex when athletes started to get close to lapping each other.

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During each set of the bike leg, the athletes would complete 7 laps of the course – totaling 5 miles per set.  Or roughly about .71 miles per bike loop.

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Here you can see the leaders coming into transition, preparing to switch to the run leg:

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The entire event was recorded for NBC Universal, where it will be shown in a few weeks.  You can see the camera crews all over the place, including on this motorcycle.

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The Run:

With the bike leg behind them, it was off onto the run course.  The run course was a smaller portion of the bike course loop – aimed at keeping the athletes closer to the potential spectator areas.

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Though unfortunately, even with the short 1/2 mile long run loops – the athletes weren’t always very near anyone:

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In fact, between me and the camera crew – we tripled the spectator population in this portion of the course.

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Near the finish area they provided water to athletes on each loop.  Again, despite being at night, it was still over 90*F (32*C).

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Now of course the kicker is that despite running at roughly 5:00/mile, that wasn’t going to be the last leg of the race.

And then…do it all over again:

First, it’s back to the pool, here you can see Sara McLarty about to put back on her swim cap and goggles.

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And then preparing to dive into the pool.

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Now entertainingly it wasn’t just the athletes who were switching sports.  Note the below NBC cameraman, he still has on his motorcycle helmet from literally jumping off the moto and right up to the pool deck.

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Then it was back onto the bike they went.  Here, Gwen Jorgensen heading back out:

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And then a few minutes later they’d come back in again, pick up their shoes and go for (yet) another run:

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Which, would ultimately bring us to this moment – just under an hour after the event started:

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The women’s race would be won by Gwen Jorgensen (seen above), then Sara McLarty (seen below, left) in second and Lindsey Jerdonek taking third (seen below, center, with #5 on her arm).

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Overall the event was pretty fun to go check out, though turnout on the spectator side was pretty low.  Unfortunately despite being timed to the massive cycling show here in Vegas, the event location was pretty much across town and not at the Mandalay Bay where Interbike was being held.

Adding to the low-attendance woes was that the USA CRITS event was being held at the same time (and right at the Mandalay Bay where Interbike ended for the day at the same time).  Ultimately it sounds like there was a bit of a falling out between the organizers of Interbike and the Super Sprint Triathlon – resulting in the move across town.

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On the positive side, local media was on hand and conducted a number of interviews with athletes.  Additionally, NBC Universal will be broadcasting the event nationally on Monday, October 7, at 8PM ET – and apparently it will also be available online down the road too.

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With that, thanks for reading!  It’s back to writing Interbike product-related posts.

Welcome to Interbike week! This week during Interbike 2013 I’ll be tweeting from the exhibition show floor quite a bit, as well as posting frequently. Here’s a quick and handy link to all Interbike-related posts.

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15 Comments

  1. IronNico

    Hahaha, glad you took the time to write about this one ! :)

    Reply
  2. Tucker

    You me lengths not laps correct? 12 x 25m = 300m. While 12 laps would be 600m.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Sorry, was using the ‘swimmers’ definition, where a lap equals one-length. Confusing, I’ll switch it up.

      Reply
  3. Cool event! Nice pics Ray! Didn’t see you in that pool though…. :)

    Reply
  4. anon

    What did they push off against at the end of each length?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      They were pushing off the wall, though most appeared to be pushing off a bit higher up the wall, where I suspect there was less give than lower down the wall. I suppose if it’s holding back that much water, it can probably withstand a human pushing off of it.

      Reply
  5. Paul Wilson

    Cool. This format was hugely popular in Australia through the 90′s with guys like Greg Welch, Brad Beven, Peter Robertson and Courtney Atkinson racing. On the women’s side US athlete Barb Lindquist was popular with Michellie Jones, Loretta Harrop and others making up competitive fields. Each summer we had a series of these – broadcast on national tv. Some had a pool swim like this one, others a beach swim. The cycle leg was renowned for the “bike bowl” in the early years, a mini centrifuge that allowed riders to make a fast 180 degree turn in a super banked contraption you’d expect to see bmx racers using. The series lasted about 10 or so years. Great to see it rekindled on the other side of the Pacific!

    Reply
  6. John Hickey

    Tri NSW brought this style of racing back a number of years ago with a race series called a protour! The brains department soon decided to get away from this style of racing with sponsors putting up prize money. Huskisson proved to be extremely popular with Barb Riveros winning on the day. It looks great I hope they build a World Series out of it.

    Reply
  7. Can I borrow this pool between races? Just to drive the neighbour nuts?

    Reply
  8. Anders Majland

    Is swim caps required ?

    Seems like waste of time for such a short sprint in a pool.

    Reply
  9. Wawan

    Aw .. that looks fun .. I mean that kind of triathlon …

    Reply
  10. Hi. My name is Reg Holden with Coeur Sports (www.coeursports.com) we were the title sponsor of the race and really hope the format catches on. From our perspective, it was one of the more spectator friendly types of triathlon in the market and could go a long ways in helping to grow our sport. Especially if it gets more TV coverage.

    Also…your photos were fantastic. Wanted to see if we could purchase the rights to one of them.

    thanks,

    Reg

    Reply
  11. Phil

    Hi Ray, Thanks for documenting the race! I was not familiar with this format and will look out for the TV re-broadcast. I would love to see this format catch on.

    Reply
  12. That actually sounds super cool, but the shot from above makes it look crazy, crazy empty.

    Reply
  13. Todd

    There is an event like this in San Diego called the Fearless Tri. I’ve done it twice and is my favorite format. It’s fast and fun and one hell of an hour long work out.

    This would be great for a local area to set this up and race every week or 2 weeks for a “season”. Kind of like a softball league. You would expose a ton of people to the sport and allow people to get their feet wet in triathlon by offering just a one lap race.

    Reply

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